The scandal of the lack of action regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK was brought into sharp focus during a recent episode of BBC period medical drama, Call the Midwife.
During the broadcast, West Midlands Police posted what they no doubt believed to be an innocuous Tweet from their official account which read: “Watching #CalltheMidwife on BBC1? Visit out webpage on Female Genital Mutilation for information #FGMLetsTalk”.
Taking them up on the offer to ‘talk’ Manda Ponium Tweeted back “Why have there been no prosecutions? It’s the parents who arrange this, so it’s easy enough to track them down if reported!”
Incredibly, the police force, which cover an area with one of the highest rates of FGM in the country, replied with the following message, which was later removed after an outcry from other Twitter users.
The sad fact is that of 2015 there have been no convictions in the UK for performing or arranging FGM. By contrast, in France over 100 parents and two practitioners had been prosecuted by 2014 in over 40 criminal cases.
Astonishingly, while cases of FGM have gone unpunished, between January 2011 and March 2013 courts jailed 107 people and in 2015 fined more than 166,00 collectively more than £28 million for not paying their television license fee.
FGM in the U.K.
A case of female genital mutilation FGM is either discovered or treated in England every hour, according to the NHS’ own statistics.
Between April 2015 and March 2016 there were 8,656 times when women or girls attended doctors’ surgeries or hospitals and the problem was assessed – the equivalent of one every 61 minutes.
Among those who attended, a new case of FGM is recorded every 92 minutes on average.
This means a woman or girl has their case recorded by the NHS for the first time, although in many cases they will have been cut some years before but it has not come to the attention of doctors sooner.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern in July 2013 that there had been no FGM-related convictions in the UK. The committee even asked the government to “ensure the full implementation of its legislation on FGM”, but this seems to have gone unheeded.
Talk2Me Radio’s Jon Gaunt certainly didn’t pull and punches when he featured the story on his radio show (which you can listen to below), with his dogged persistence extrapolating some damning figures from the beleaguered Force.
After repeated requests for information, West Midlands Police finally revealed to the radio host that despite referrals rising from 119, to 126 and most recently 146 in the last three years, there have been no prosecutions.
The Force also said that they did try to pursue one case in May 2016, arresting the father of a potential adult victim who was at risk of FGM. They attempted to justify the difficulty in pursuing prosecutions by explaining that cases sometimes rely on victims having to give evidence against family members, which they are often unwilling to do.
While FGM is illegal in the UK, this Tweet from West Midlands Police makes it seem as though, while being aware of the law, the authorities are unwilling to act.
It is not the job of the police to decide whether something is against the law or not. Their job is to provide enough evidence of criminality for the Crown Prosecution Service to make a judgement as to whether a conviction is possible or in the public interest.
The evidence of FGM is physical and cannot be reversed. Parents are the ones who allow or arrange for their daughters go through this life changing process for cultural or religious reasons, and as such it should not be difficult to hold them to account. It also begs the question as to how safe the children are being made to return to the families who wilfully put them in harms way in the first place.
According to the NHS, along with mental illnesses, the long-term physical consequences of FGM procedures can include chronic vaginal and pelvic infections, abnormal periods, persistent urine infections, possible kidney failure and infertility.
As a man, it is hard to imagine the horror of being forced to undergo FGM, but a look around the internet reveals many harrowing first hand accounts.
Hibo Wardere, who was born in Somalia but now lives in the UK, was six years old when she was held down and cut. She can’t return home after speaking about about FGM and described her personal horrific experience in very graphic terms to the BBC’s Newsbeat.
“I had type three (FGM) which means your clitoris is gone, vagina lips are gone, everything’s gone. On top of that, they stitch you and they leave you with a tiny hole which you are supposed to be weeing from and menstruating from and in the end – have intercourse from.
“You are absolutely consumed with pain from head to toe. You literally do not know how to cope with it. Many girls died. I prayed to die that day.
“You feel unloved, alone, isolated. You feel worthless, a shell of yourself, you’re not a child anymore. You lose trust in others. It’s a nightmare and it’s the beginning of it.
“Physically you are never out of pain because of the damage they do.
“When I hit puberty my whole nightmare began because my period wasn’t coming out right and every month I was in so much pain.
“It’s a nightmare. I don’t know how to get out of it, even if I talk to therapists, it’s still there.
“You kind of learn how to cope with it. You don’t have a choice.”
This is the horror which the UK authorities are turning a blind eye to. By failing to act, they are subjecting British girls to a medieval and barbaric procedure which leaves many with psychological scars as well as lifelong physical damage.
The same political correct cowardice which ignored the 1,400 child victims of sexual exploitation in Rotherham is also failing the reported 50,000 girls at risk of FGM in the UK.
It takes strong government at both national and local level as well as hard work to change deep rooted beliefs and customs which are just unacceptable in a modern society. Ignoring the problem is tantamount to handing down a life sentence to thousands of young women because of cowardice and political correctness.